Alternate Titles for Spectre

You forgot there was a James Bond movie coming out, didn’t you? Me too, until I found myself in theaters watching it. Minor spoilers for tone and the teensiest of spoilers for plot, but…you’re not watching this for the plot anyway, are you? Don’t.

  1. How much abuse can a middle-aged body take?
  2. A good soundtrack makes all the difference
  3. It’s about THE DATA DAMNIT
  4. This is definitely not an obsolete franchise, nope
  5. The world’s cybersecurity problems boil down to a personal grudge, surprise!
  6. Never neglect a German child
  7. This guy again
  8. What do you mean this is an outdated sensibility
  9. Here we are in North Africa living a beautiful khaki imperialist dream


Women of Color in Ballet

I’m a former ballerina, and I was one of the only minorities in a studio that was predominantly, overwhelmingly, white. Ballet, as a cultural sphere, is particularly exclusionary in a way that is both obvious (the high price of this hobby) and hard to pin down. Perhaps it’s the subtle, often insidious atmosphere of a discipline that prizes certain bodies and certain aesthetics above all others. In a medium so focused on the visual body, the importance of seeing role models who look like you cannot be overstated. Small wonder, then, that seeing Misty Copeland as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake has lit a fire in young ballerinas of color everywhere. Misty’s success is a vivid reminder of black excellence in a field that hasn’t quite been welcoming to women of color.

The ballet world and beyond has been dazzled by Misty Copeland’s rise to fame—from the cover of dance magazines to a giant ad in my local Dick’s Sporting Goods, her face is everywhere.

Misty Copeland in one of her ads for Under Armour---simultaneously inspiring young dancers of color and reminding us what a strenuous sport ballet truly is.
Misty Copeland in one of her ads for Under Armour—simultaneously inspiring young dancers of color and reminding us what a strenuous sport ballet truly is.

I’m a former ballerina, and I was one of the only minorities in a studio that was predominantly, overwhelmingly, white. Ballet, as a cultural sphere, is particularly exclusionary in a way that is both obvious (the high price of this “hobby”) and hard to pin down. Perhaps it’s the subtle, often insidious atmosphere of a discipline that prizes certain bodies and certain aesthetics above all others. In a medium so focused on the visual body, the importance of seeing role models who look like you cannot be overstated. Small wonder, then, that seeing Misty Copeland as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake has lit a fire in young ballerinas of color everywhere. Misty’s success is a vivid reminder of black excellence in a field that hasn’t quite been welcoming to women of color.

Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack in Swan Lake | Photo from the New York Times
Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack in Swan Lake | Photo from the New York Times

But she’s not the only one. As Theresa Ruth Howard argues in her piece “The Misty-Rious Case of the Vanishing Ballerinas of Color: Where Have All the Others Gone?“, an overwhelming focus on Misty as “the first one,” “the only one,” the “ultimate” trailblazer actually erases and diminishes the many dancers who helped shape the path that Misty now dances. To elevate Misty and forget her predecessors (and peers) would be to commit the fallacy of the “only one”—the flawed assumption that, for women of color and black women in particular, there can only be one in the top spot. It’s time for classical ballet, an art form with diminishing mainstream cultural resonance, to open itself wider to the passionate dancers of all backgrounds waiting in its wings.

Ballet is an especially interesting cultural arena because of the conversations surrounding black women’s bodies. Black women, like most groups of women of color in the history of the United States, have been both oversexualized and instrumentalized. Mainstream pop culture’s appropriation of black dancing (see: twerking) while simultaneously denigrating the same black women who originated this facet of culture—that’s a telling example of the double standard to which black women’s bodies are held, isnt it? Ballet, despite its claim to artistic purity that rises above politics, is not immune to this. It is an art form about looking at bodies on display, about profiting from the bodies of girls who work themselves sometimes to exhaustion. But it is also about beauty and joy and the sweetness of struggle. These are not irreconciliable. As ballerinas of color take to the stage, they inevitably participate in a cultural sphere that does not always respect or value them—but they also work to carve out a space for themselves and for the craft they love. That is beauty.

This gallery pays tribute to Misty and her fellow ballerinas of color: those who shone so brightly on stages all over the world and inspired the next generation of dancers. For a fuller list of black ballet dancers, please visit Roll Call.

This extremely brief introduction is by no means an exhaustive list (not even close!) I have intentionally focused on black ballerinas because in the fraught racial history of the United States, black ballerinas have been forced to overcome more explicit color barriers than most other groups. This is not to diminish the achievements of other women of color—another post about them is forthcoming! If you have suggestions, please share your favorite ballerinas and dancers of color, trailblazers all, in the comments. 

And the future? It might look like rising star Michaela DePrince, one of the subjects of the ballet documentary First Position. She is now dancing in the company of the Dutch National Ballet. Here she is at the young age of 14, competing in the Grand Prix. Check out her TED Talk too!

Must-Read: Friendship Stories

Post may contain slight spoilers.

Since tittering with Acro coven-mate K.S. at the beefcake and bromance of Magic Mike XXL last month, I have been hungry for more stories about friendship. One of the best things for me about the Magic Mike sequel was the way it dwelt in male friendship and let the quiet moments between the men unfold. Those, more than any panting over hard dude bods, are the moments that I recognize as most genuine.

Friendship seems always to get short shrift in popular discussions about relationships. While desire, usually expressed as sex or ambition, romance or power, is compulsively and regularly narrated for us, friendship is always the consolation prize. It is the zone that represents thwarted desire. As a form of dependence that does not preserve the individualism undergirding our narratives of desire, friendship has the potential to be something radically affirming and constructive. And for all our chatter about the difficulties of romantic love—men are like this, women are like this, am I right, ladies???—it is friendship that feels truly dynamic, diverse, complex and difficult.

In preparation for this list I asked some of my friends to recommend their favorite stories about friendship, and as with most friendly advice, I summarily ignored it all (thanks, buds!). So below find a more or less idiosyncratic and personal list of friendship stories that I find particularly compelling.

Broad City


Via @broadcity / Instagram


The relationship between Abbi and Ilana is the best-friendship I’ve always coveted. Both effortless and deep, whimsical yet vital, youthful but solid, their friendship is striking in its simplicity. Neither sex nor competition muddies their rapport and mutual devotion. And unlike other female friendships on this list, this is not the sweetness of girlhood dependence before adulthood and the world of men and sex intrudes. No rich dentist or kinky neighbor could hope to replace the spark that exists for these women in each other.


Ilana is the best-friend unicorn of every 20-something girl’s dreams. More adventurous, brazen and cocksure than the staid Abbi with a sporty suffer-no-fools attitude and a seemingly boundless well of affection, she is the exciting boundary-pushing fantasy girl that inspires so many submissions to Thought Catalogue. The manic pixie dream friend who doesn’t seek adulthood or personal development, but will joyfully hump a wall in triumph at learning that Abbi has finally, finally, pegged a guy.

Every time I hear Ilana’s “dooood!” I am reminded of all of my cusp-of-adulthood friendships and the self-contained intensity of young women who keep the best of themselves for each other.

We are, all of us, just Abbis searching for our Ilana.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood



There is a certain kind of friendship that is only possible in the presence of a shared enemy. I’m not talking about the kind of bonding facilitated by a bad boss or a mean teacher, but about a primal connection that can draw people hurt by the same person together. These friendships are built on the perverse satisfaction of dwelling in one’s misery, of discovering an ally who will poke your wound only to comfort you in your hurt. Finding someone who knows your pain intimately, and won’t ask you to metabolize it constructively.

This is the friendship that Roz, Charis and Tony share in Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. Each woman has fallen victim to Zenia, erstwhile best friend and recidivist husband-stealer, whose long-ago death is not as permanent as it should be. They are drawn together through their shared anger and pain at Zenia’s various betrayals, but they are equally bound by an unspoken grief at her loss. Although each woman rages and mourns at the loss of her man, filtered through that pain is the more fundamental betrayal of sisterhood and friendship perpetrated by Zenia herself. We might have expected it of men, they say, but how could a woman do such a thing to me?

Drawn together by the betrayal of another woman, Roz, Charis and Tony need each other simply to bear the pain of losing both their men and their sisterhood at once.

Withnail and I


Unlike other nostalgic 80s films about the 60s, Withnail and I remembers the era as intermittently hopeless and hysterical through the lens of a rapidly disintegrating friendship.

The film follows the relationship between the titular Withnail, played masterfully by Richard E. Grant, and Marwood (the “I” played by Paul McGann), two unemployed actors living one drink to the next in a grimy London flat as they attempt to snatch a little relief from the oppressive misery of their lives on a misguided holiday in the country. It is about the kind of friendship made possible by substance abuse and the kind of substance abuse facilitated through codependence. Alcoholism enabled by a friendship that feels distressingly like addiction. Withnail’s calls for alcohol are a constant refrain, and one of the best scenes in the movie has Withnail guzzling lighter fluid after they’ve run out of booze while Marwood objects that “you should never mix your drinks!” Riding the line where devotion slides into addiction, it deftly captures the feeling of emotional hangover.

Here is codependence and self-destruction at its most horrific and compelling. Here is friendship with a profound loneliness at its center. Here are men who consume each other with needs that can never be satisfied.

I should mention this is a comedy.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


The actual outlaws, Sundance and Butch bottom left and right / Wikimedia commons
The actual outlaws, Sundance and Butch bottom left and right / Wikimedia commons

 I am devoted to bromance. Although I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about women and their relationships, my heart positively melts in the presence of genuine affection between men. Bromance isn’t exactly rare in film—the buddy movie is a time honored tradition, as is the cowboy flick—but the friendship between Butch and Sundance transcends, for me, the usual perimeters of male friendship prescribed by Hollywood. Their jauntiness is not a cover for homosexual panic. Their friendship is not an excuse to flee shrewish wives. They do not compete for money or jobs or women. No grudging respect, this. Theirs is a meeting of kindred hearts.

Butch and Sundance are so obviously in love with each other in that way that we fall for friendships that feels like destiny. The movie feels a little dissonant because it looks and feels like a gritty revisionist western with the sparkling banter of a romantic comedy. It lets Paul Newman and Robert Redford be beautiful and charming at each other in a way that feels more consistent with Frank Capra than John Ford. Theirs is the closest to genuine sexual tension to appear on this list. The banter is clever and flirty, and it really seems that bickering through the desert on horseback is the greatest pleasure these men could imagine. If Robert Redford were a woman they would have found their way into bed before the third act. As it is, they consummate their love through the proxy of an apparently non-competitive romance with the same woman—Butch handles the seduction and Sundance gets the sex. But rather than doing the obvious queer reading this film is begging for, I want to dwell in the friendship. This movie allows us to enjoy the erotic potential of friendship without insisting that its only pleasure must eventually be sex.


Harry Potter

Dumbledore’s Army via @HarryPotterFilm / Twitter
Dumbledore’s Army via @HarryPotterFilm / Twitter

At its center, the Harry Potter series is about the vital necessity of friendship to the struggle, any struggle. The ties of friendship in this world have the power to mobilize armies and topple totalitarian regimes. These books believe that courage is a function of community and that the causes we fight for must include the people we love. Friendship here is nothing if not a political association. It is the very basis of revolutionary potential and political action. Fighting for a better world cannot be divorced from dedication to community just as investment in friendship is intimately tied to enthusiasm for justice. It is, perhaps, a romantic fantasy to believe that a pure enough love can solve political problems, but I think it is just as true that the model of anti-individualist dependence offered by friendship is a good place to begin building a sustainable politics.

Friendship here, as in a lot of other YA fiction, is so much more critical than romance. The crucible of puberty and sexual awakening is a strong presence, but desire can never sustain the struggle the way friendship does. The most touching relationships in the series are not the romances, many of which whiff hard, but the fierce loyalty and trust comrades carry for each other. They fight for the world so that their friends may continue to live.


Sula by Toni Morrison


The friendship in Sula is, in many ways, quite the opposite of that in Broad City. While Abbi and Ilana can live uncomplicatedly for each other while high-fiving over their various conquests, Nel and Sula grow up violently and early to discover that the communion of women is perverse and destructive in a world organized by men under the sign of hetero love. Among many things, Sula explores the ravages that adulthood and sexuality have on the exuberance of female friendship.

Sula and Nel’s adolescent devotion disintegrates under the pressure of Nel’s choice to marry a man named Jude while Sula remains unattached and unapologetically unconventional. Eventually Nel loses Jude and Sula both, and they live most of their lives without each other. But Sula’s death provides one of the most heartbreaking moments of mourning for friendship I have ever found:


“All the same, all that time, I thought I was missing Jude.” And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. “We were girls together,” she said as though explaining something. “O Lord, Sula,” she cried, “girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.”


To be girls together. That is a loss worth mourning.

Do you have a favorite story about friendship? Any recommendations for must-reads? Let us know in the comments! 

How to Slowly Transform Yourself into Patti Smith

Do #wcw one better—as E.L. puts it, this is “A handy step-by-step guide for your metamorphosis into one bad bitch idol.”

Performance with the Patti Smith Group, Germany, 1978 via Wikipedia
Performance with the Patti Smith Group, Germany, 1978 via Wikipedia

A handy step-by-step guide for your metamorphosis into one bad bitch idol.

1. Become very comfortable with your nipples. So comfortable, in fact, that that they lose all meaning. You wouldn’t even notice if they disappeared.

2. Become the muse/lover of a talented young artist whose pictures of you will sometimes feature your nipples. This is to remind you of their existence.

3. Start writing poetry.

4. Carry the tragedy of lost girlhood innocence in your eyes. Never smile again.

5. Wrap androgyny around yourself like a cloak of rumpled, woolen menswear.

6. Your poetry should be just exactly what the poetry of a young woman on the cusp of maturity ought to be. That is to say, angry that it ought to be anything at all.

7. Surround yourself with the kinds of men who wear sunglasses indoors. You have about as little use for women as you do for your own femininity.

8. Discover that you are only ever naked or dressed like a chic hobo.

9. Rage, rage against the myths that have made the world thus. Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not yours.

10. Read lots of Sylvia Plath just to be sure. Anne Sexton too. Chant “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” in the mirror every night.

11. Buy a wide-brimmed hat. This is an advanced move—do not attempt until you have mastered steps 1-10.

12. Rock that triangle hair, girl.

13. Find that your fame has alienated many of the men in the punk scene. This is the most punk rock thing of all. Never stop making men angry.

14. The phallic fortitude of mens suiting softens into something more vulnerable when draped over your slight shoulders.

15. Become a member of an art collective or four. Begin calling yourself a poet slash visual artist.

16. Never let anybody tell you how much hair grease is too much hair grease.

Weekly Link Roundup!

  • This past week’s popcorn.gif moments come courtesy of the reddit debacle. Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong is just over in a corner giggling about this whole thing. Meanwhile, Ellen Pao was never the feminazi monster she was made out to be. Oops. Reddit is a fascinating place, and harbors some productive/fun communities in addition to its cesspools, but let’s not pretend we won’t survive without it.
  • In more serious news, we continue to ask: What happened to Sandra Bland? The latest, highly suspicious case in continuing police violence against black lives.
  • Bigotry nestled deep within niceness: how lack of empathy, and lack of humanization, often comes with a smiling face and sincerity, rather than vitriolic hate.
  • Medium gives us a glimpse into the shifting economy of Tinder. The mantra? Dick is abundant and low value.

  • Study confirms implicit biases against female bosses, even in cases where such biases are explicitly disavowed. Look closely at yourself, look closely at your practices.
  • This earthquake is coming for you and death is nigh.
  • And lastly, simply because it’s heartening: these young ladies celebrated their hearts out at the ticker tape parade for the US Women’s Soccer Team, and it’s great.

Weekly Link Roundup!

  • Words to be intoned—on the steps of South Carolina’s capitol, and in your heart. “Take it down now…drive out this cult of death and chains.” As usual, Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic speaks truth.  Here, he makes clearer the connection between the racial terrorism of Dylann Roof’s murderous crimes, and the logic of the Confederate flag fluttering in the breeze.
  • Words that need to be spoken (via The New Yorker) and the history of the church that Dylann Roof bloodied.
  • Parsing the stakes of “is this feminist?” or “is this feminist enough?” (via The Mary Sue).
  • Maggie Mertens argues that women’s soccer, and women’s sports more generally, deserve feminist attention. With women playing on a turf field for the World Cup and getting paid a fraction of what men get paid (surprise, surprise?), I’d say she’s right.
  • And finally, because the world is a bitter place and laughter is a good protection against emotional exhaustion, have this tumblr, which hilariously captions old dress patterns. That doesn’t sound funny, but it is.

Have suggestions for our link roundup? Leave us a comment below, or get in touch through our official facebook page. 

Weekly Link Roundup! McKinney, Twitter trolls, and more

Here’s some of what we collected this week:

  • VOX on some of the fraught history behind swimming pools, McKinney, and police assault of young black children.
  • The problem of plastic waste in the ocean, and what one fashion company is trying to do to change it.
  • The Mary Sue sits down with the inimitable Kate Beaton. 
  • Twitter  has added a new anti-troll feature. 
  • Women in STEM fields respond to Tim Hunt with a hashtag funnier than his asinine comments deserved: #distractinglysexy.

Have suggestions for our weekly link roundup? Leave us a comment or like us on facebook and let us know!

Humanities Teachers from Least to Most Believable, a List 

In the midst of radical de-investment in education across all levels and a turn away from principles of liberal education toward increasingly profit-conscious institutional demands, we think it’s time to remember and celebrate the teachers that have captured and nurtured our imaginations.

Despite the supremacy of STEM in the political discourse around education funding, it is the humanities and the arts that occupy our ideas of what it means to have a good education. Our books and movies are populated by teachers whose interest in meaning, history, language, creativity and self-exploration have inspired us with interest in ourselves and the world. The stories we tell are rarely about the math and science teachers of our high school experience, but rather about the passionate, savvy, absent-minded, tweed-sporting humanists of our dreams. While STEM teachers are consistently represented as geniuses or nerds (occasionally both), they are rarely drawn as the custodians of meaning or soulfulness.

In our collective imagination, all English teachers are bright, unflappable salt-and-pepper types with elbow patches and the more profound passages from Shakespeare ever on their lips. Fortunately, this image of the stalwart humanist is as false as it was compelling to our teenage selves. Acro Collective is full of brilliant humanists that not only look very little like the traditional image of one, but are also far more interested in interrogating the zombie as metaphor than in exploring the Meaning of Life.

So below in handy list form we’ll classify the tropes that structure our ideas about humanities teachers from least to most believable. For those invested in semantic precision, you should be warned that we use “humanist” here in the broadest possible way.

7. Professorial Adventurer

Topping the list as the least believable academic to grace the halls of the Ivy League, we have the strikingly handsome and intrepid adventurer who takes breaks from globe-trotting artifact hunts to teach the occasional class before a bunch of fawning co-eds. Think Indiana Jones or The Da Vinci Code hero Robert Langdon who, though played by the unimposing Tom Hanks, is described in the novels as “Harrison Ford in Harris Tweed.”

Although Indiana Jones carries daddy issues, a fear of snakes and a cocky faith in his own handsome righteousness—honorable humanist pastimes if ever there were any—his pec muscles and capacity to throw a respectable punch put him far outside the spectrum of believable academics. Robert Langdon at first glance fares slightly better. Having invented the wholly fictional academic discipline of Symbology—a field that, as far as I can tell, consists of performing cursory close readings of canonical European art in an attempt to verify various conspiracy theories—he seems to be precisely the image of an academic humanist. But, like Indy, Langdon’s life contains altogether too much gunplay and not enough violent departmental politics to be a true portrait of an academic.

There are men who go on Nazi-punching adventures and there are men who catalog artifacts. These are not the same man, and if they were they would not have Harrison Ford’s jawline.

6. Messianic White Lady

Photo from

Without ancient magic or papal intrigue, the Messianic White Lady trope feels slightly more authentic than the Professorial Adventurer. She belongs to a genre of film dedicated to assuaging White Guilt by celebrating “choice” while also insisting that the choices of poor and non-white youth are by necessity in need of reform. “There are no victims in this classroom!” Michelle Pfeiffer proclaims to her students in Dangerous Minds when they remind her that she doesn’t understand the mechanisms of non-choice in their lives.

With nothing but a leather jacket and grit, these white ladies teach their students that rap is just poetry, that the color of your skin is just a cheap excuse for failure, that if you learn to appreciate the immortal language of more dead white dudes you will finally have transcended your circumstances.

What this trope fails to represent is that the awful conditions of schools without resources are deadening to both students and teachers, and that noble intentions and a blind insistence on the individuating pressures of “choice” cannot overcome decades of concerted effort to de-invest in poor black and brown students.

5. Magical Waifs

On the spectrum of benign white ladies, the Magical Waif stands at the opposite pole from the women you find in movies such as Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. Sweet-voiced and pure of heart, she is the nurturing custodian of childhood. Matilda’s Miss Honey and Jane Eyre’s Miss Temple, for example, usher their charges into young adulthood with grace and care. She is the daydream corrective for every child’s dawning awareness that the world is a brutal and sorry place.

Despite or perhaps because of her remarkable commitment to children, she is also a queer figure. Her gift is to build communities outside of the biological family and without hetero sex or reproduction. As the product of a prepubescent imagination, she exists without desire as a figure of pure maternal offering.

Her saccharine charm is a palliative to the narcissistic child in us all, but for my money, Miss Trunchbull is a far more compelling figure for the beleaguered adult imagination.

4. Tweed with Passion

Do you remember that moment in high school when you read Walden and realized, perhaps for the first time, that you were an individual whose beautiful and unique essence was under siege by the homogenizing pressures of Society? Do you remember the first time an author’s language seemed vital and alive, and you felt as if the words of a long-dead writer spoke directly to your experience, as if you were the intended recipient?

That moment produced Robin Williams’s performance in Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating speaks directly to the teenage soul for whom authenticity and individuality seem like radical gambits and the repression experienced by a bunch of mid-century prep schoolers feels like a vital problem.

It’s hard not to be charmed by this trope. Being told that the aesthetic experience of beautiful language is a viable substitute for political action is enticing, especially to my teenage self who liked to believe that the individual was the most powerful avatar of freedom. We all want that teacher who told us that standing on desks and reading poetry in the middle of the woods is the best way to overthrow institutional authority.

Carpe Diem, motherfuckers.

3. Hot Teacher

Troped most extensively in porn and gross-out comedies featuring teenage boys, the hot teacher/librarian who introduces the pubescent boy to lust is standard fare. She wears pencil skirts and horn-rimmed glasses and chews beguilingly on the end of her pencil when she talks.

J.Lo.’s Claire in The Boy Next Door is a funhouse mirror version of this trope in which her sex appeal becomes horrific rather than joyfully provocative. Though her understanding of first editions is sadly flawed, her version of foreplay consists of quoting The Illiad with young men whose identification with Achilles does not seem to terrify her in the slightest.

Though I suspect rare in most high school experiences, Hot Teacher is mid-list because we’ve all known the embarrassment of crushing on the smart, older authority figure in school.

2. Sensitive Liberal Arts Guy

Photo from The Lyceum Theatre

Here we have Hot Teacher’s masculine counterpart: Sensitive Liberal Arts Guy. We’ve all met SLAG—many of us have dated him. He identifies vocally as a feminist, he has a beard, and he likes earnest conversations about Sartre, tea infusion, and his favorite bars when he went to college “in Boston” (not Tufts).

He may or may not have an affair with a sophomore in his Introduction to Western Philosophy class. This relationship will make him feel authentic and remind him there is joy outside of his own jaded ennui, and somebody—probably Woody Allen—will make a movie about him. He will be played by Josh Radnor or Hugh Grant.

By all rights, he probably deserves to be number one on this list, but I’d rather not end on a depressing note.

1. Miss Geist and Mr. Hall

It is possibly the sticky sweetness of my nostalgia talking, but I think Clueless’s Miss Geist and Mr. Hall are precious and relatively authentic images of high school humanists. Mr. Hall is jaded and curmudgeonly and Miss Geist is impassioned and adorably frumpy. Neither are profoundly effective educators, but both inspire the kind of affection in their students reserved for the hopelessly unhip.

Miss Geist’s enthusiasm does not arouse her students to desk-jumping passion, but rather reminds the selfish and self-involved Cher to look momentarily beyond herself. Mr. Hall’s snarky indifference does not belie a serious intellect, but simply represents a man coming to terms with his own mediocrity. Their romance is not brilliant and unlike many of the other figures on this list they are regular looking people whose sex appeal is totally lost on their students.

To them teaching is a day job that can’t afford them nice clothes, and nothing seems more true to a humanities teacher than that.

Honorable Mentions:

Sybill Trelawney (Harry Potter), who reminds me remarkably of one of my high school English teachers.

Mary Albright (3rd Rock From the Sun), whose mediocre scholarship and need to share an office with an obnoxious goon because of sexism rings profoundly true.

Summer Reads: Dystopian Dreaming (Mad Max-Inspired)

Some consider the original Mad Max films to be the originators of the current post-apocalyptic aesthetic that’s now a familiar theme in film, literature and video games: the world becomes a dirty, gritty place and the real villains are the humans running amuck in the wake of large scale catastrophe and institutional collapse. If you’re like me, the adrenaline rush of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road left you with the desire for more dystopian action and it’s going to be a long wait for Mad Max: Wasteland. Since you’ve probably already seen Divergent and The Hunger Games, let me humbly suggest another way to get your apocalypse fix: a few great summer reads that share in the Mad Max spirit by being gritty, raw, or beautifully self-conscious of their own genre (and all the campiness, hokeyness and playfulness that comes with along with it). What a lovely day!

Some consider the original Mad Max films to be the originators of the current post-apocalyptic aesthetic that’s now a familiar theme in film, literature and video games: the world becomes a dirty, gritty place and the real villains are the humans running amuck in the wake of large scale catastrophe and institutional collapse. If you’re like me, the adrenaline rush of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road left you with the desire for more dystopian action and it’s going to be a long wait for Mad Max: Wasteland. Since you’ve probably already seen Divergent and The Hunger Games, let me humbly suggest another way to get your apocalypse fix: a few great summer reads that share in the Mad Max spirit by being gritty, raw, or beautifully self-conscious of their own genre (and all the campiness, hokeyness and playfulness that comes with along with it). What a lovely day!


1. If you loved the gritty, violent world of Mad Max: Fury Road:

City of Bohane

by Kevin Barry (Graywolf)

Post-apocalyptic wasteland fraught with feuding factions of dandies? A technologically retrogressive world full of violence, intrigue, and romance? A shit-ton of awesome futuristic sartorial choices? Check, check, and check. City of Bohane takes us through the lives of people in 2053 Ireland as they contend with their pasts while trying to carve out a future for themselves in the the barren city none of them can seem to escape.

Like Mad Max, the environment of this novel is bleak. Characters consistently refer to the Bohane river and the way it “taints” the city, suggesting that the book has major eco-critical potential. The novel is set in the fictional Irish town Bohane and follows the feud between the Hartnett Fancy and their rivals as they try to maintain control of the city. Logan Hartnett, leader of the Fancy, relies (at least superficially) on  his mother Girly to authorize the Fancy’s wargames, while actually relying on the murderous talents of three young possible successors, the galoot Fucker Burke, a lovestruck Wolfie Stanners and the fierce Jenni Ching. If you are into gritty, highly stylized, dystopian novels with a unique, rich, storyworld, then this is your new read.

Though he deftly uses description, the real meat of this novel is its unique dialogue, which Barry  has said he based on “working class speech in the cities I grew up in, Limerick and Cork”, noting that “Those kinds of voices have never really shown up before in Irish literature.” By combining Irish slang, new insults, slurs, and curses with the rhythm of the contemporary Irish accent, Barry has invented a new dialect that is at once completely understandable but also believably alien. Playing with the structures and functions of language seems to be one of Barry’s goals and he has commented that  “[The novel is] written in Technicolor…It’s intended to be a big, visceral entertainment as well as a serious language experiment.”

This is the debut novel by author Kevin Barry, who has also published two volumes of short stories and has been featured in the New Yorker and won various awards for his short fiction and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for City of Bohane.


2. If you were interested in the way that the “half-life war boys” were used as disposable bodies to serve the greater will of “society,” (read: Immortan Joe)

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro (Alfred A. Knopf)

Time Magazine called this 2005 novel by Ishiguro (who already has a Booker Prize under his belt for The Remains of the Day (1989)) “the best novel of the decade” and it was a finalist for the Booker Prize,  Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award (among just receiving general praise!).

*This section includes spoilers.

The novel tells the story of three friends growing up in a near-future dystopian England where humans are cloned so that these clones–who are not regarded as fully human–can donate their organs to increase the healthy life of the “real” humans. The novel explores the experiences of Kathy (our narrator and protagonist), Ruth, and Tommy as they pass from boarding school, to young adulthood, to “completion”. The novel transports us to their early days as they attend a boarding school that focuses on keeping them healthy and teaches them to produce art–which in this society can be used to denote the presence of a soul. Art, especially when created by those clones who will donate their organs until “completion”, perhaps not only indicates humanity, but also can represent a piece of the clone that lives on after they have “completed” (much like how George Miller has explained that “the “half-life war boys” who are doomed to die young, and they worship cars because “the machines endure when they know they themselves will not.”)

Critics have apparently debated what genre to put this book in, but I’m willing to side with horror writer Ramsey Campbell who said in an interview that this books is horrific precisely because the characters don’t see the horror of their situation. I think this sentiment also applies to Fury Road—part of the reason that Immortan Joe is so terrifying is because the half-lives don’t see their situation as negative, even though they, like the clones in Never Let Me Go, have no real agency over their futures. As the clones are told, “Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you’re old, before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do. You’re not like the actors you watch on your videos, you’re not even like me. You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided.”

3. If you were fascinated by the disgusting, yet powerful system of authority set up by Immortan Joe

Zone One

Colson Whitehead (Anchor Books)

There’s no way I could make a dystopian book list and not include a novel about zombies, since the undead often operate as a catalyst of the apocalypse. This setting asks us to observe the way that authority reasserts itself in times of disorder, be it through webs of interpersonal microaggressions and community organization or authoritarian or military-style takeovers. Therefore in a book list that is Mad Max-inspired, I would recommend Zone One, where the desolate wasteland is not a parched, stormy desert, but the empty and barren shell of New York City.

Zone One imagines the emergence of a post-apocalyptic dystopia in the portrayal of the American Phoenix government (located in Buffalo) which tries to use the symbolic capital of New York City to promote its own authoritarian ends. The novels gives us a personal account of trauma, narrated by a black man who remembers his life pre-apocalypse and continues to make cognitive adjustments to the new world as he realizes that his mediocrity in the old world makes him the hero of the new.

The tie-in to Mad Max is in the way that the powers-that-be hoard resources and modify/sacrifice bodies as a way to further their own authority. In order to earn their keep, survivors like our protagonist (Mark) are required to do some sort of work—for example, Mark volunteers to be on a sweeper unit to clear NYC of its last remaining zombies. “We make tomorrow,” says the American Phoenix  in a call back to the puritanical work “ethic” that is responsible for humans being seen only through the lens of their labor efforts. The authorities in Buffalo are always sending along new rules and regulations to the sweeper teams: looting for example, is prohibited.  Buffalo even tries to regulate the responses that humans have to the trauma of apocalypse, categorizing all of their sensible psychological reactions to trauma as part of the “Post-Apocalyptic-Stress-Disorder,” a disease that can and should be fought. Suicide is a forbidden thought—new empires need to find some backs to build upon.

The narrative oscillates between Mark’s past and present, spiraling around his telling, eventually giving us a full picture of him: his narrative constructs his being. While there’s a good deal of recounted action and moments of high drama that will pull on your heartstrings, what’s really significant about Zone One is the sophistication with which it handles its subject matter. Ultimately, its about the way that bodies (living and dead), institutions and the city interact as separate sites of power during the post-apocalyptic reconstruction, with a particular sympathy for the individual experience. Furthermore, the language is just gorgeous. Whitehead chooses to have Mark narrate in 3rd person–a jarring experience at first–but one you quickly get accustomed to since Mark is an entertaining, thoughtful, and powerful narrator.

4. If you were really into the way that Mad Max: Fury Road gleefully embraced the action genre while simultaneously doing critical work


Alan Moore and David Gibbons (DC Comics)

Watchmen is Alan Moore’s imagining of an alternative history where masked vigilantes work for the government. At once a powerful meditation on justice and power and a biting critique of the superhero, Watchmen is both action-packed and philosophically rich as it forces readers to confront questions about the duty of the citizen, the workings of power, and the value of human life. The narrative is told in a kind of zig zag, traversing both time and space as the now aging superheroes confront the actions of their younger selves.

This passage encapsulates the spirit of the novel–really the spirit of the aesthetic that this book list is built upon: “Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world.”

The character that utters these words, Rorshach, is complicated. In some ways we could argue he is the protagonist (if we can agree that Watchmen has a singular protagonist) because we have unfettered access to his mind through his detailed journal; however, this journal reveals the severity of his bigotry, but also his hopeless resignation in a world made dark by the threat of war. Rorshach’s staunch, legalistic moral stance seems to have been conditioned by his exposure to violence, violence that was then replicated in his behavior, making him too a victim of his dark world.

Admittedly, Watchmen is not without its problems. The novels shows us scantily clad female superheroines and uses sexual violence and abuses as a trope meant to signify that the world is corrupt; but both of these elements could be explained by the work’s inherent parody of the superhero genre. However, the fact that the female characters are not actualized outside of their relationships with men is less easy to write off. Despite these issues, Watchmen is still worth the read, mostly because of the grand scope of its critique. It explicitly asks us to consider whether the ends of peace justify even the most horrific means–a question that I still believe is relevant, nigh essential, for us to fully consider as we rise against institutions that disenfranchise its citizens.

Alan Moore has also written V for Vendetta (another great read if you’re into graphic novels),  From Hell (Jack the Ripper in Victorian London) and The Killing Joke (which apparently Heath Ledger used as source material for his widely acclaimed portrayal of the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight).

5. If you were really into the feminist readings of Mad Max or the society of the Many Mothers

Egalia’s Daughters

Gerd Brantenberg (Seal Press)

I first read this dystopian critique/novel in a women and gender studies class I took while in college. If I am to be honest, I find it comically heavy-handed in its satire:  The world is populated by wim and menwim, the latter of whom are relegated mostly to the domestic sphere while the former tend to the affairs of state. A masculinist party forms and threatens the extant power structures of Egalia—but this is all a backdrop for the coming of age story of young Petronius, the son of one of the powerful wim, Director Bram. The book hits you over the head with its critique, and it’s more than a little silly, but as one reviewer put it, “If it takes this reversal of roles for men to finally understand how women feel, to walk a mile in our bruising, too-tight, ill-fitting, high-heeled stilletto [sic] shoes, then I implore every man to read Egalia’s Daughters twice. It’s a real eye-opener, and maybe then the sexes can finally reach an understanding and possibly even reach equality.” Though I agree that the novel certainly highlights inequities in society, its real work is in showing that the real problem isn’t gender: it’s the way the power uses gender to establish hierarchies.

When Mad Max returns to Furiosa and her badass companions as they begin their trek across the desert, he comes with a plan: escaping isn’t the best way towards lasting satisfaction, peace, or redemption. Those purposes are best achieved through elimination of institutionalized inequity, ie. taking down the Citadel. The catch of course becomes—aren’t all forms of power in some way abusive? For now, until a sequel tells us differently, we can live in the vague hope that the populist impulses Max and Furiosa bring back to Immortan Joe’s people will last. But I suspect we’ll get to see more intricate workings of power in the post-apocalyptic landscape in future Mad Max films.

Things That Make and Break Avengers: Age of Ultron

*very, very minor spoilers, mainly of aesthetic details

Avengers: Age of Ultron was full of campy goodness…These are moments which might detract from, or really add to, your movie experience, depending on your expectations and mindset:

  1. Cap’s concealer / Nat’s eyebrow powder / everyone’s makeup, really
  2. Ultron’s ass (sports-car curves, yes!)CAOxhh2UMAIWWvG
  3. Ultron’s undulating and somehow…sensuous lips…

    Photo from Entertainment Weekly
    Photo from Entertainment Weekly
  4. Wet Thor in a dramatic cave

  5. Sad droopy Bruce-face
  6. Quicksilver’s Adidas endorsement deal

    Image from
    Wheeee zoom zoom | Image from
  7. The twins’ Cold War accents (unidentifiable Slavic vagueness!)
  8. Awareness of how brilliantly campy this movie will seem in 5-10 years
  9. Cap’s biggest fear is not knowing the foxtrot, maybe
  10. Keeping track of property damage costs (Avengers insurance??)
  11. Recognizing Running Man filming locations when the Avengers are in Seoul
  12. Every time Bruce gasps THE INTERNET (“he’s hiding in THE INTERNET”)
  13. SCIENCE BRO MONTAGE ft. Bruce and Tony (*swipe* *calculate* *high-five*!

    Avengers dick-size contest ft. Thor's hammer
    Avengers dick-size contest ft. Thor’s hammer and Cap’s forearms
Gratuitous beautiful Quicksilver promo because I can
Gratuitous beautiful Quicksilver promo because I can
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